This spring, after returning from Thailand I decided to buy a motorcycle. I last owned one when I did my Covid tour around the US. It was a small TW200. It was fun, but just too short for my liking. After doing a bit of research, I narrowed my new bike down to a Kawasaki KLR 650. I choose this for a few reasons. First, it was cheap. I could pick one up slightly used within a year old for under $6K. I settled on the newer model (2022 or ’23) because it was fuel injected, digital display and frankly it looked cooler than the previous generations. Second, the KLR was everywhere. I could find tons of used ones, so I was not looking for some unicorn bike that only pops up on facebook marketplace a few times each year. Third, the bike was easy to fix. It did not have a lot of complex parts or require specialized service like Harley or BMW. Forth, there is a huge committee of KLR owners willing to help you with issues on forums. In addition, there were tons of aftermarket parts available to modify it in a number of different ways. And finally, it just seemed to be a reliable bike that was decent on both roads and dirt. Not great on either, but it is hard to find a bike that is. It can go on seasonal roads (not built for ORV trails ideal for ATV or true dirt bike) and also do 70mph on paved roads for 3-6 hour stretches without too much muscle fatigue. The major downside is, it is a heavy, noisy bike for the amount of power it supplies. With all my gear, it comes in well over 500 lbs. For that size bike you assume it can do 80 mph all day, but it cannot. But I really was not interested in doing 80mph, but I would have to contend with the weight issue when dropping. If I could keep it on trails it was meant for, I really should not drop it.
Now that I had my bike, it was time to buy it. While I was still in Thailand, my buddy found a solid 2022 KLR with 5K miles for $5K around the corner from his vacation home in Florida. He bought it for me and I thought that was the end of it, but unfortunately that was only the beginning of the drama. The plan was for him to put it in the back of the pickup and drive to Maryland, where I would fly, and ride it back to Michigan. The day before leaving, he told me his truck would not handle the weight and asked if I could ship it. I did not put up much of an argument because he was already doing me plenty of favors by buying it, so I agreed to find a shipper through Uship.com to get it back to Michigan, meeting me when I arrived home from Thailand.
Uship.com is like Airbnb. They are basically a third-party that matches someone that needs shipping with a company that ships goods. Unfortunately, unlike Ebay, Airbnb, Uber, etc, they don’t offer any protection for the customer and do no due diligence on the shipper. The shipper I found was this jackass named Jervis. Some ex-ballplayer. I learned after the fact that he did not have insurance, and really was just running his shipping operation as if he just decided to be a shipper one morning and started listing a services that afternoon.
He picked up the bike, gave my buddy a fake name, unsure why, and told me he would deliver in one week to MI. One month later he disappeared. Now there were various communications along the way that were cryptic and confusing but he essentially went dark on me. I contacted Uship (no help) and the police in Florida. The Florida police said it was an agreement between 2 parties and would not get involved. I had his home address, but they would not even send someone by. I vacillated for a while on whether to fly down there, but decided I would then escalate it beyond $5K value of a bike. And possibly end up hurt, dead or in jail. One day a month later Jervis resurfaced for a few hours and I was able to convince him to let me send someone to pick up the bike. He provided a fake address, of course. I reserved another Uship.com shipper to deal direct with him because if he could not get it from Jervis, I was not out any money. Kinda shitty to put on the new driver, but I was hoping they could sort it out. As usual, Jervis went dark on the new driver. The new driver was calling me, and understandably upset, as he was in the Florida area but could not get ahold of Jervis (I did not tell him the back story). Finally, when I was on the phone with him, and he was telling me that he was continuing on, skipping my bike, Jervis called him on the other line pretending to be someone else and agreed to meet to trade the bike. The guy got the bike and told me it was setup to be shipped out of the country. To this day I don’t know why Jervis gave up the bike. I mean I could have taken him to small claims court, but he technically did not even have to pay if he lost the case, which was another shock to me. Anyway, the new guy got the bike then stopped at his house in Indiana before delivering it to me. He delayed the delivery 4 times before actually delivering! The moral of the story, don’t ever ship anything unless you do serious due diligence on the company. I mean researching them with govt and transport board. Making sure they are registered, have insurance, and are reputable. Actually just never ship anything of value is the best course of action.
I wish that were the end of the story. When I returned from Thailand and assumed my bike was stolen, or “under contract” as the police like to say, I decided to buy another one. So I found the exact same bike with less than 200 miles in Michigan and bought it. Then the other bike showed up, and I had 2 of the exact same bike in my yard. Fortunately, my friend Rob agreed to buy the “Jervis” bike.
It worked out good for both of us because by this point I knew everything about these bikes and could help him customize it and I obviously unloaded the extra bike.
That brings us up to speed I think. So, after getting both bikes modified for adventure, we took a weekend in June to test them out. The plan was to drive them up to the tip of Michigan’s Lower peninsula and work our way down Lake Michigan. We would mix coastal roads with inland ORV and forest roads.
Here is our route
Here is the bike I bought in Michigan
And here is Rob’s bike “Jervis”
I came up with the route by mixing in established ORV trails on Michigan’s DNR website, with dirt roads I found on gravelmaps.com. I booked campsites along the lake a few months in advance. I spent a month getting a decent toolkit together, new riding gear, bike aftermarket gear, and streamlined my existing camping equipment.
Rob pretty much mirrored my bike mods, which was good so if something failed I knew how to fix it. He showed up at my house at 9am on a Thursday, ready to roll.
We took off on the bikes after loading the route on our phones mounted on the handlebar. Immediately we realized we were both following different routes on the Rever.co app. This was strange. It seemed like my route was reverting to an old route I had created months ago. I had spent hours on this route so I was pretty frustrated as we sat at a gas station 1 mile from my house. We decided to just reverse and go a different way out of town as I thought the 2 different routes would be the same once we got some distance behind us. On the way back past my house, I looked in my rearview and saw Rob almost dump the bike as he tried to avoid running it up over a curb and up onto the sidewalk. Then at a major intersection, I stalled the bike, a classic move I like to do, and I could not get it restarted. I just kinda penguin walked it through the intersection. If you are keeping score, and trust me, we each keep score on these trips, it was 1 fuck up for each of us. We got about 1 mile the other way and I signaled to pull over again. I tried to delete my route and have Rob email me back his route. Well, that was not a good idea as it deleted all routes and now Rob’s was gone as well. I sat there for a minute and digested it all, while trying to not completely losing my shit. Channeling my inner Buddha. I decided then that we had to go back to my house and I needed to recreate the route. I was zipping in and out of traffic like I was back in Thailand, where there are no rules and you can do whatever you want; split lanes, ride the sidewalk, even ride against traffic.
I sat and made a quick route for us, and also messaged tech support at Rever to see if they could reload the deleted route
About 11am we were back on the road. We were not taking highways on this trip so we had a long stretch in front of us. Around 2 hours in it began to pour. We stopped and had to laugh as this trip was turning into a mess. It wasn’t all bad, because this was a ‘test trip” so if nothing went wrong it meant we really did not test all our contingency plans. I should say ‘my’ contingency plans, as Rob really doesn’t bake other possible scenarios into his preparations. He has a hard enough time following basic direction.
Neither of us wear waterproof gear. We both subscribe to the idea that you wear basic armor and bolt on the necessary layers as needs arise. Whether that be cold, rain, snow, etc. I tend to overheat easily so I would hate to have this bulky motorcycle jacket and pants on, and it be 90 degrees and I can’t do anything about it. So, along that thinking, we both just carried disposable rain gear called Frogg Toggs.
Other than looking like complete idiots, it worked pretty well. It only took Rob about 30 minutes to tear a hole in his. It came with a hood that worked better if you tucked it into the helmet, but made it a little uncomfortable and quiet in the helmet. Unlike most people, I actually like it noisy when I ride, which is part of the reason I wear goggles instead of a face shield. It keeps me awake.
Every time it stopped raining, I would take off the Frogg Toggs and then it would immediately start raining again. At one point I parked it under the overhang of a 7-11 in Saginaw. At this time, Rever emailed me back that they were able to reload my route to the app!
Around 3pm we made the lunch spot. Wheeler Restaurant in Standish MI. It is an old-school place that has not changed in decades. We both had open-faced sandwiches and just enjoyed being out of the wet weather and not on high alert while riding a bike as rain drops hit my face like broken glass (another bonus of not wearing a face shield).
We stopped briefly at an ORV trail to take off our rain gear again. Rob took the opportunity to take his bike off-road for the first time
He did surprisingly well. Don’t worry that trend would not last. We also tried to do “elephant turns” on the bikes (quick turn around in sand). He was not bad, but when I tried it, I just buried my back wheel up to the chain. The weight in the back-end couple with my more street-oriented tires was a lethal combination. Which would become all too familiar as the trip went on.
Later, I lost the route and we found another nice off road stretch to connect us back to pavement. At this point my phone charger cable melted. I was having issues with it all day and it finally gave in. Fortunately I had various back up alternatives and we were off again.
We made it up to the Mackinaw bridge and then just West of it we rolled into Wilderness State Park. At the General Store before entering the park, we loaded up on firewood, liquor, ice cubes and snacks. We did not bring actual meals on this trip, only coffee. A guy at the store saw us on our bikes and said he would drop our wood and cubes at our campsite. We felt bad when we later realized our site was “walk-in” so he could not pull right up and drop it off.
When checking in, the Park Ranger asked me to come inside. I walked in through employee entrance. He asked me to use the other door. I was like, “I am already inside, I will just walk around the counter” It had been a long day and I was at the point of just making decisions for the group. And by “group” I mean everyone we interacted with. He wasn’t too happy, but come on, the shack was the size of my kitchen. Did it really matter which door I used? Anyway, he proceeded to talk to us about random stuff I did not care about, then stated that our site was already reserved and it seemed it was double booked. He said he had another handicapped-only site, but wanted me to go see if someone was at the original site first before giving me the other. I asked if we could just have the other, it was 8pm and I doubted any handicapped people were still going to show up on a whim tonight. And I really did not want to come back here to deal with him. Nope, he wasn’t buying it. Fortunately no one was at the original site.
We unloaded and set up our fire. Rob did not bring a camp chair, I think because we ridiculed him about it on our last motorcycle trip. Instead he brought an inflatable balloon thing, a hammock and a stool.
We had a great spot right off the water and proceeded to load drugs and pretzels into our body for the next 3 hours. Rob chowed down on a box of donuts. I forget to mention. When we stopped for lunch, he headed up to the donut counter and tried to buy 3-4, but the cashier said they only sold them by the dozen. Before they even got the word ‘dozen’ out of their mouth Rob had agreed to the upgrade and bungeed the Krispy Kreme box to the outside of his motorcycle.
The best part about moto trips is the stories around the fire. Unlike any other trips, when riding motorcycles, especially when you don’t have communication in your helmet, you have all these crazy things you see along the road and you have no one to tell. Then when you are around the fire, you start to remember and are constantly like, “How about that guy we saw…..” It is unique experience that I would not trade, and easily my favorite part of the trip. After ingesting a bunch of edibles the conversation went downhill, as it always does. At one point Rob was talking about a recent trip he took with his wife. He was talking about rolling through a sketchy part of town and I asked what he meant by sketchy. He responded that when they passed one corner they saw 2 black guy having sex. I said, “ I see, so it is one of those ‘guys having sex on the corner’ type places?” That instantly became the running joke for the trip.
I slept great. In fact I slept great the entire trip. Each morning Rob would wakeup and tell me about all that went down around the campsite around 3am, but it was all news to me.
Today we began the off-road section. In addition to following the coast down to Traverse City, we would be dipping inland for ORV trails and back to the coast for the famous Tunnel of Trees stretch.
Michigan has a lot of sand. What you would expect for a state surrounded by lakes. We had experienced deep sand when we did the Arizona BDR, so we were not new to this, but it did not make it any easier. The thing with deep sand is, you have to go fast, get up on top of it, much like a boat on waves, but to do that you have to really have nerves of steel (read insane) and trust physics. At an increased speed you float on top of the sand, but if you catch a rut or wobble in any way, it makes the crash much more intense.
Rob has not ridden off-road for a couple years since we did the Mid-Atlantic BDR, while I have a bit more experience with riding in Thailand and out West recently. I was able to go a bit faster, maybe because I am just more casual with my safety, regardless it made a big difference. He dropped a couple times and was discouraged. I realized unfortunately that you really can’t just tell someone they have to get faster, rather they have to get there on their own.
That being said, I was not having an easy go of it by any means. Here you can see me burying my back wheel trying to turn around
Not long after that I took my only spill of the trip, but it was a nasty one. Here is a shot of my leg. What looks like a calf muscle is actually the front of my shin where the foot peg came around and dug into it like a medieval torture device.
We stopped for coffee after the first stretch and I was able to break out the tools to help straighten out Rob’s turn signals and mirrors. We then headed through the Tunnel of Trees. Some epic homes along the lake here. I just kept thinking, “I didn’t even know this was here. All this time these people were living the high life.”
We rode through Harbor Springs and Petoskey, and before running into Charlevoix we went back off-road and here Rob had his melt down.
I think Rob dropped it another 4 times here. I must clarify as it will become important later. A ‘Fall’ is when you crash and you and the bike are in the dirt. A ‘Drop’ is when the bike falls but you manage to step away without falling.
We made it to Traverse City and checked into the State Park just East of town. We caught an Uber into the city and had dinner at Yard Bird
We then went on to a couple other bars before convincing the Uber driver to stop for snacks, cubes and wood before dropping us back at the campsite
Another epic night of nonsense around the fire.
The next morning we had coffee and hit the road. We backtracked to an off-road section Southeast of town. We then took a straight shot due West from Traverse City to get to Lake Michigan, skipping much of Route 22 and the Leelanau Peninsula.
At this point Rob’s back was hurting from lifting the bike too many times. He was now up to 6 falls and 2 drops.
We stopped in Frankfort for lunch and another break
Things had gotten so bad that when he rolled up next to me at a light, he appeared to be almost unconscious and almost ran into the back of the car in front of us. “Whoah, Whoah, easy Tex!, let’s pull over for a bit what do you say?” As he grunts approvingly.
About this time his tire pressure went from 19 to 12 quite quickly and he immediately pulled over on a state highway. I looked back. It is exhausting to manage navigation and people behind you and regular motorcycle stuff like trying not to die. I circle back and was kinda excited because it gave me a chance to try out my bottle of Slime. Instead of changing tubes when flat, cause I can’t, I decided to just fill them with goop and reinflate. So I got tools out and removed his valve stem, filled with goop and reinflated. It worked!
That was a cool test. Later I also got to test my jumper cables as Rob likes to leave his keys in the ignition and kill the battery. The best part of this episode is when we finished I said, “Why don’t you go in front of me in case you have trouble.” He took this to mean that he should take off immediately. So he revved the throttle and got in ready position like some Olympic runner waiting for the baton handoff. He started off onto highway and I yelled, “Not yet!” as I was still getting ready. He stopped in the middle of the highway. I looked down to put my gloves on, and when I looked up he had dropped the bike and traffic was stopped in both directions. I really wanted to take a picture but I was just frozen. A lady yelled, “Are you ok?” to which Rob responded, “yes keep going!” and then back at me, “Why did you make me stop!” as if to redirect blame for the accident on me. This was a very delicate situation so I just remained quiet as he was beet red and huffing like animal in a bull fight arena on his last legs. As every matador knows, that is when they are most dangerous. He jetted out of there and I followed. About 20 minutes later I signaled to stop. We pulled into a parking lot and sat there for a minute facing each other with our helmets on like to knights in a joust. I quietly asked, “Can I ask you a question without you going crazy?” He agreed. I said, “Was that a ‘drop’ or a ‘fall’? To his credit, he did not beat the shit out of me. He just lowered his head and said in a defeated manner, “it was a drop” So that was our final tally. 6 falls and 3 drops for Rob and 1 fall for me.
From then on we high-tailed it into Grand Haven as we were running late. We camped on the beach and walked into town for drinks and dinner
My tent stakes would not work in the sand so I just camped under the stars that night
The next day we stopped at a bar in Mason for lunch and were home by 1pm
Besides a rough start it turned out to be a great trip. Rob is a great companion as he puts up with all my attitude and lack of patience. I look forward to more trips this summer.
Until Next Time,